OEMs turn attention to single-engine jets

 - June 7, 2007, 9:58 AM

The race is on; the first manufacturer to certify, build and deliver a single-engine jet that offers reasonable performance and price might have the market to itself until Piper Aircraft’s PiperJet joins the fray in 2010. Unless Cirrus Design has far more up its sleeve than it has revealed thus far, it appears that Diamond will be first to market with its surprisingly roomy D-Jet.

Cirrus plans a big announcement about its single-engine jet later this month at the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association’s annual migration to Cirrus’s Duluth, Minn. headquarters. While Excel-Jet has told AIN that it is currently building a second prototype to replace the first, which was destroyed in a takeoff accident last year, the company is also seeking funding for the program to continue to certification.

Meanwhile, small bits of information about the various single-engine jet programs leak out here and there, and while much of the performance data remains unavailable, there are some interesting trends.

The most noticeable is that three of the four single-engine jets are limited to a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet. “There is not enough power to pressurize at higher altitudes,” said J.C. Lamy, Diamond Aircraft director of marketing and sales. For those who are expected to move into single-engine jets, he said, “it’s more fitting of a typical mission.” There are other factors, he added, including insurability, lower maintenance costs, quicker time-to-climb to maximum altitude and no need for RVSM certification. “We think it [the D-Jet] will be very insurable,” he said.

One of the costs associated with higher-altitude airplanes is complying with FAR 23.841, which says, “If certification for operation over 25,000 feet is requested, the airplane must be able to maintain a cabin pressure altitude of not more than 15,000 feet in the event of any probable failure or malfunction in the pressurization system.” This raises the question of how a single-engine airplane can meet the requirement after an engine failure.

For Piper, this won’t be a problem, according to a spokesman, and the PiperJet will be certified to 35,000 feet. “We will not need to apply for an exemption to 14 CFR 23.841,” he told AIN. “The requirement relates to ‘probable’ failures or malfunctions of the pressurization system supplying air to the cabin. We will have an emergency pressurization system to demonstrate compliance with this particular regulation. The engine-failure scenario is considered and addressed separately, and emergency oxygen systems may be used to demonstrate compliance for that.”

All of the 25,000-foot single-engine jets are priced far lower than Piper’s higher-flying PiperJet, and they have fewer seats and smaller cabins. At nearly $2.2 million, the PiperJet might be risking competition with lower-cost twin-engine VLJs such as the $1.52 million Eclipse 500 or $2.2 million Adam A700.

Piper is targeting the owner-flown market and banking on owners of existing Piper airplanes moving into the PiperJet, just as other manufacturers expect buyers to move up from their existing products.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Piper Aircraft president and CEO Jim Bass. “It took two years to get 100 [turboprop] Meridian orders.” On the day that Piper announced the PiperJet, attendees at the Piper Malibu/Mirage convention where the jet was unveiled placed orders for 40 copies of the jet. As of late April, Piper had orders for 186 PiperJets.

Rick Adam, founder, chairman and CEO of VLJ developer Adam Aircraft, thinks that the higher the price of a single-engine jet, the more a buyer will gravitate to jets with two engines. “If they can keep them down around $1 million, I think they have a market,” Adam said. “But if they get the cost up to where it’s the same cost as a twinjet, I don’t know why somebody would buy one instead of two. Sometimes these things are hard to figure out. When you have a brand-new product, it’s hard to figure out what the market is until you actually see people buying them.”